Schools evacuated surrounding plant fire in Hickman County

LYLES, Tenn. (WTVF/AP) – Hickman County emergency workers evacuated a four-mile radius as firefighters battled a fire Wednesday at a plastics recycling plant on a contaminated federal Superfund site.

A large smoke plume could be seen for miles from the fire that started around 10 a.m. at the Industrial Plastic Co. Inc. on Plant Road in Lyles. The area approximately 4 miles around the plant was evacuated due to the high toxicity from the burning plastics and alcohol on the site, according to officials.

Four schools in the radius, East Hickman Middle, East Hickman Intermediate, East Hickman Elementary, and East Hickman High School, were evacuated around 12:15 p.m. Children were taken by bus to schools in the safe area. Parents were told they could pick up their children immediately or at the end of the school day.

Students from East Hickman Middle were taken to Hickman Middle, while students from East Hickman Intermediate were taken to Centerville Intermediate. East Hickman Elementary students were taken to Centerville Elementary, and East Hickman High School students went to Hickman County High School.

Kim Skelton in the county mayor's office said fire crews from surrounding counties are helping to put out the blaze.

Firefighters backed off the fire around 11:30 a.m., allowing it to burn for their own safety. Officials said there was a propane tank in danger of exploding and worked to get a ladder truck up to spray water on the tank and keep it cool.

There were no immediate reports of injuries.

The Red Cross in Nashville said they were coordinating with Hickman County Emergency Management Agency to determine how they can best assist those who have been evacuated. An emergency response vehicle filled with snacks and water was headed to the area to provide food and shelter as needed.

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency spokesman James Pinkney said someone from the agency was headed to the scene to assist. Superfund sites were created for the cleanup or removal of areas in which hazardous toxic waste was dumped.

The EPA website said the former Wrigley Charcoal Plant, located northwest of Highway 100, was placed on the National Priorities List in 1989 because of contaminated debris, ground water and soil in the county of about 24,000. The Superfund area includes a 35-acre primary site and surrounding areas comprising about 300 acres.

Industrial Plastics Recycling, a small-scale recycling facility that works on metals and plastics and there is waste product storage on a portion of the primary site.

According to the website, the EPA and the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation have investigated conditions at the property and taken steps to clean up the site "in order to protect people and the environment from contamination." The investigation and clean-up are ongoing.

TDEC spokeswoman Kelly Brockman said state environmental officials will have to wait until the fire is out before they can assess possible public health and environmental implications.

Sky 5 HD showed heavy flames and black smoke billowing from a building on the property as well from plastic and other items on the ground. It was difficult to see the extent of damage due to the heavy smoke.

According to the EPA website, the Superfund site was home to various industrial operations, including iron, charcoal and wood distillation product manufacturing, beginning in 1880. Contaminants of concern include wood tar chemicals, metals and volatile organic compounds.

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